Media Glare a Blessing or Curse for Obama?

The toll the media took on Barack Obama started to show back in April. 

He was eating breakfast at a diner in Scranton, Pa., when a reporter tossed the presidential candidate a question on Jimmy Carter's meeting with Hamas

"Why is it that I can't just eat my waffle?" an annoyed Obama answered. He deflected the inquiry, and continued to chew, even though he hadn't held a press conference in days. 

Obama, now the president-elect, is just weeks away from entering the White House and beginning what could well be one of the most storied presidencies in history. 

But those who cover him say he's not yet gotten comfortable with the glare of the media that comes with the gig. 

And while studies show Obama drew far more positive coverage throughout the campaign than his Republican rival John McCain, it remains to be seen whether he will use the intensity and diversity of the coverage to his advantage as president. 

Tim Graham, director of media analysis at the conservative Media Research Center, said he expects Obama will have to start warming up to the press "when things go bad" during his administration. 

He said Obama will likely be given tremendous leeway in the media, at least in the beginning, but questioned why the president-elect wasn't yet showing more of a comfort level with his traveling pool. 

"We've seen stories on his glistening pecs, we've seen stories about him going out with the girls for shave ice. If he finds that uncomfortable, I don't know what else he expects," he told FOXNews.com. 

The media show few signs of letting up on coverage. Celebrity journalists were in top form during Obama's 12-day vacation in Hawaii as they nabbed photos of the shirtless president-elect, generating headlines across the country about his toned physique. 

Graham said Obama can continue to use celebrity publications effectively while in office, regardless of his standing with traditional media, negotiating access with them in exchange for favorable coverage that will reach a broad audience. 

But will political reporters tire of the hard-to-get routine? 

One of the strange dynamics of the 2008 presidential campaign was that McCain, who for years had nurtured a rapport with reporters, often received critical coverage and Obama, who was consistently cool to the press, often received positive coverage. 

Obama, perhaps understandably, still hasn't warmed to the fact that his public life is now chaperoned by a pool of detail-hungry chroniclers. 

His vacation in Hawaii served as another reminder of this. He urged photographers to finish up taking pictures of him at a golf course last week. He took the rare step of abandoning his pool of reporters last Friday morning to take his daughters to a marine amusement park. (Reporters later caught up.) The same day, while one reporter was taking down diligent notes about Obama's lunch, the president-elect advised: "You don't really need to write all that down." 

Those who follow Obama note every possible detail, to a sometimes-unsettling degree. Dispatches from the reporters assigned to follow Obama day-to-day in Hawaii described his daughter Sasha's dress (purple, yellow and white), Obama's lunch (tuna sandwich on 12-grain bread, with tomatoes and no mayo) and his golf game in agonizing detail. 

Obama did make his way to the back of the plane on the return flight to Chicago to wish reporters a happy new year. 

"I hope you had a little bit of fun, you weren't just sitting in a van," he said, joking with the press for a few minutes. 

Democratic strategist Julia Piscitelli said she doubts the press will turn on Obama in the months ahead and predicted he'd handle the coverage smoothly. 

John Batchelor, Los Angeles-based radio talk show host, said Obama will benefit from what he sees as a desire to forge a positive narrative of the presidency.  

"This is Jack Kennedy ... It'll work," he said. "There's not much else to look forward to in this year. 2009 is going to be grim. We need Barack Obama and we need the celebrity coverage."

Martha Joynt Kumar, a professor of politics at Towson University and presidential scholar, said Obama's successful campaign proved he values communication and predicted his White House would reflect that as well. She said he'll still have to make the transition from campaigning to governing, and learn how to communicate more complex messages and filter them out to the public. 

"A president speaks a great deal during the campaign but it's the same speech," she said. "And when you're governing you have to dial it many different ways."